Researchers have found that the mother's milk increases the level of chemicals that play an important role in brain growth and development in premature babies.
The findings of the study presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2019 meeting in Baltimore provides another evidence that breast milk is indeed the best for babies.
Effects Of Breastmilk On Premature Babies
Study researcher Catherine Limperopoulos, from the Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C., and colleagues sought to find out what makes breastfeeding beneficial to the developing brains of newborns.
Using a noninvasive imaging method called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, they examined the brains of very low birth babies. These babies were under 3.3 pounds and were born after no more than eight months of pregnancy.
The researchers looked at the right frontal white matter and the cerebellum in the brain that plays a role in muscle coordination, balance, and high-order mental functions.
They found that compared with formula-fed babies, those who were breastfed had significantly higher levels of inositol in the cerebral white matter. Inositol is a molecule similar to glucose. Significantly higher levels of creatine were also observed in breastfed infants.
Creatine facilitates the recycling of ATP, the energy currency of the cells. Greater quantities of this metabolite mean more rapid changes and higher cellular maturation.
The researchers also found that the percentage of days the babies were given breast milk was linked to significantly higher levels of creatine and choline, a water-soluble nutrient. Levels of choline rise when new cells are generated.
"Our previous research established that vulnerable preterm infants who are fed breast milk early in life have improved brain growth and neurodevelopmental outcomes. It was unclear what makes breastfeeding so beneficial for newborns' developing brains," Limperopoulos said.
"Proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, a non-invasive imaging technique that describes the chemical composition of specific brain structures, enables us to measure metabolites essential for growth and answer that lingering question."
1 In 10 US Babies Are Born Preterm
Figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 10 percent of babies born in the United States are born preterm.
Research have shown that preemies tend to face increased risk for mental health problems later in life, are more prone to childhood infection, and are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis as adults.